My mentors and professors at seminary did not promise an easy road when we ministers, wet behind the years, sought positions in local churches across the South. We all knew ministry wasn’t easy. There are the ups and the downs, the good days and the bad days. The sermons that lead to little transformation and the moments when someone responds and wants to get baptized right then and there.
There are some days we feel like we can change a nation like William Wilberforce, and there are other days when we are courageous enough to take a bullet like Martin Luther King, Jr. There are days of clarity and a resounding affirmation of vocation. You know why you do it in the bottom of your gut. In the words of Will Campbell, you do it “’cause you were called, dummy!”
Then there are the days when ministering to people on the margins–doing church differently–that can get to us. Being on the margins means suffering through the in-between times: The time between sermons, meetings, group ministry, and joyous youth events. Them are some lonely times.
Jesus tells a parable of a shepherd who leaves the comfort, conformity, and safety of 99 sheep in order to search for that one sheep on the margins. Never mind that it is easier to just let that sheep meet its fate out in the desert; the sheep probably deserved it anyway.
No, Jesus’ shepherd leaves home to find that one sheep. Those of us who are accustomed to reading this parable often focus on the finding and the rejoicing. We know there’s a big party a-comin’ when we get to that sheep.
It’s the in-between place that Jesus never warned us about. With the 99 sheep behind us on one horizon and the 1 sheep in front of us on the other horizon, we sense the loneliness and despair and silence that is the wilderness and desert of the journey that remains in-between.
And if you’ve never ministered on the margins, you really don’t know what I’m talking about. You may think you have it hard and you may think you know what I’m talking about, but if you were to serve the people that a majority of churches ignore, only then will you learn the meaning of suffering.
So, for those facing hardships and find yourselves on the margins, on that journey road in between safety and conformity and that place on the horizon (“‘Cause you were called, dummy!”), this is for you: You are not alone.
Amen, and amen.